The club, which needs $1,800 to operate for the year, may be eligible for PSE&G's "Light of Day" award. The grant provides $10,000 for teachers to fund special projects and programs. There will be one $5,000 award, and two $2,500 awards for next year.
Students were told earlier this week that Help Our Planet Earth, a 20-year-old extracurricular environmental club, will become extinct by the end of the year due to unexpected increases in this year's school budget.
Michael Germann, a mathematics teacher at Secaucus High School, initiated the program in during the 1986-87 school year. It was originally called the Safe Energy Club.
"We didn't like the name and came up with something new," he said.
Describing himself as an environmentalist, Germann said the group's goal was to make some kind of impact on the local environment, and indeed, over the years, members of the high school club rowed out into the Hackensack River and its tributaries to clean up debris from the shores, sometimes braving cold, rain and high tides.
In 1992, the group adopted a particular patch of abandoned soil near Schmidt's Woods and across the street from the Koelle Boulevard Sewerage Treatment Plant.
"You should have seen the junk on it," Germann recalled during the club's annual Arbor Day cleanup of the park. "There were old washing machines, TV sets and tires."
Germann said the group had looked at two sites, but decided on the Koelle Boulevard site because it was near the high school, and club members could easily access the property.
"We wanted to turn it into an urban park," he said. "Mike Gonnelli [Department of Public Works superintendent] brought in a Dumpster. After we started cleaning up, we found there was a creek on the property. We didn't know it was there until we got the litter cleared."
With grants from the Hudson County Improvement Authority, the club managed to plant trees - which have since taken root in the refurbished area. Students also created flowerbeds, and after the initial yearly cleanup, students return with the coming of warmer weather to plant flowers.
"The flowers are grown in the town's green houses," Germann said. "Then they are replanted here. The town maintains the flowers over the summer."
For many of these kids, this is their first gardening experience. Germann and many of the students knew little or nothing about the environment or its issues until they began to participate in the club.
The club has been active over the years. The students got Styrofoam banned from use in the high school. They also got recycling containers put in, and of course, they go on field trips from time to time. They even took a trip to the Museum of Natural History, where they saw an exhibit on the depletion of the ozone layer.
The club meets about once a month and talks about environmental issues like recycling, or what they can do around school - like the buckets for recycled items they installed.
In 1990, then-Rep. Robert Torricelli asked them to help plant trees along the Turnpike as part of the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Seven or eight kids participated during Easter break. In 1995, Gonnelli and the club stenciled little yellow fish on all the town's sewer drains to remind people not to dump trash or oil into them. In 1993, the club went out into the Hudson River on a 100-foot schooner, collecting water samples.
Many going onto college
Many of the students involved in the program this year are graduating, but none like the idea that the club will cease to exist once they have left.
HOPE Club President Jenna Kolar said she had become involved with the program because she wanted to clean up the community and make it a better place - a sentiment echoed by many of the other students.
"It has been a lot of fun," said Tracy Gregorio. "I'm very upset by this."
Gregorio said if the HOPE Club ceases, no one would likely spend the time to clean up the park.
While other aspects of club activities would be curtailed, Germann said he would likely volunteer to help maintain the park as a legacy to the club's past.
"I think it sinks and I'm very upset," said Michelle Primavera, an outspoken senior at Secaucus High School, and a four-year member of the school's environmental club. "I never thought this would happened."
Alexis Chisari said this club was a lot of work, but it contributed a lot to the school and the community. She said members of this club have been involved in projects such as painting the "America United" sign that stands outside the high school as a tribute to the victims of the World Trade Center attack and the bravery of the rescuers.
"Mr. Germ [the kids' nickname for Germann] got us all interested in the club," she said. "I think it is necessary that it continue. Who's going to carry on the tradition?"